Here I sit typing outside in what was hysterically promised to be a massive tropical storm from a weakened hurricane. Even weather reports on TV were pre-empted by big brother robo alarms which couldn't be muted even if you hit pause button or changed the channel. Well, the wind is less than usual, sky is greyer than usual, sprinkles are a little more persistent than usual... just what anybody would expect from checking doppler radar etc of oncoming storm. Oh, you can feel a sinister quality to even weak wind gusts... it's how fast they accelerate rather than their tame speed.
I've seen it umpteen times; we luckily have a massive mountain that hurricanes have to cross first, and the forecasters are oblivious to the demonstrated historical fact that it snuffs out much circulatory power out of such storms. They probably know; only recently did their models pay attention to geography, but they probably don't dare stick their neck out and depart from proven flat-world forecasts. Maybe faked out a guy who repairs wind-blown roofs and is an instructor pilot to boot; I see him blogging he has boarded up his windows.
This time I really detect fraud. The storm has long been rated at the slowest possible speed to raise any alarm, and was forecast to not drop even one knot after mountains and cooler water for an unprecedented period until it passed all populated areas. There is a disaster industry where politicians and scientists huddle and warp the message for both good and bad intentions.
I suspect the storm has long been under dangerous wind speeds, but the nerds were afraid of the small chance it would ramp up and force them to flipflop their warnings. Forget the truth, don't inform us lowly taxpayers but pump condescending spin to keep us manageable. I have sat thru a scientific review of the Japan tsunami event, and came to see many public warnings of such waves are overblown compared to what is known to science. Even if you have infinite power behind a quake, it takes unusual predictable geology to allow that to translate to big waves. Most places cannot create dangerous waves... they are like huge engines with a tiny propeller that can't exert it's force.
Anyway, I think politicians show worse motives here. Wasn't it the Romans who instituted bread and circuses, which google calls "a diet of entertainment or political policies on which the masses are fed to keep them happy and docile." Now they exhibit benevolence by overhyping storm dangers and needlessly opening shelters etc which is much cheaper and more visible than working on crumbling infrastructure. They monopolize news in their hardhats, for instance triggering buying frenzies on bottled water... a ridiculous product that can make folks sorry they didn't get nutritious drinks at the same price. The brain runs on sugar alone, and once I was stranded in the Sahara with nothing but lemonade sport powder for several days - comfy because wells and shade was available in my spot.
One of the great truths of Britain is that for every run of good weather, you pay for it by rainy days to come. Right now the weather is prone to heavy showers. Typically I got dampened by drizzle as I arrived at the library, only to see sunny skies out of the window as I'm typing this. I'm not tempting fate by declaring when I want to go home.
The other day I was watching the birds in the park. The feathered ones I mean. Their antics are fascinating, especially when one gets cross with another. They don't just spar and conclude it like mammals, birds really do bear a grudge and once they don't like somebody, the aggressor keeps attacking the victim incessantly until it goes away.
Or until an RAF Typhoon fighter screams across the park overhead. What a racket. But then he was shifting, using that surplus of power for airspeed, going about his potentially dangerous business. I didn't think of it any further, other than he blasted across Swindon at more or less the same altitude that civilian light aircraft often do. Come to think of it - there weren't any light aeroplanes about. Perhaps the Typhoon had chased them away?
Then I spotted the unmistakeable presence of foreign airmen trying to understand the British cabbie as they flagged down a taxi. Not in ordinary or dress uniform either, but in their flying gear no less. Hmmm... I surmise, Dr Watson, that an air show is taking place within driving distance. I further deduce that since RIAT takes place at nearby Fairford Air Base around this time of year, that the town is strangely packed out with shoppers, and the roads jammed with endless queues of cars, that they are about to take part in Britain's premier airshow. But you don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to work that one out.
Life In The fast Lane Although I'm not a Formula One fan, I did watch the British Grand prix this weekend. It started under a cloud, literally, with one of those heavy showers. This made for some dramatic racing. The drivers must have been all too aware how easy it was to lose control of their powerful lightweight machines, not known for being easy to drive at the best of times, and you could see real seat of the pants driving going on as cars wobbled and slid all over the place. I though F1 was boring? This was good viewing.
Here's the funny thing though. The danger hotted up as the sun came out and the track began to dry. With grip returning, drivers were pushing their cars harder right up until they strayed into a puddle and whoops - there goes another rubber tired car, sliding spectacularly for hundreds of yards, unstoppable in true Hollywood fashion by any of the run-offs or gravel traps. I saw formula one cars doing four wheel drifts as they coped with unexpected issues in the bends. You don't see that every week, not in a sport that relies on downforce and grip.
The speed of pit stops was stunning. The last time I took any serious notice of F1 racing crews took six or seven seconds to change tires. These guys were doing it in half that. I watched spellbound as Verstappen overtook his rival on the outside, earning a 'fastest lap' in the process. Woah - that was racing, full on. But as the water evaporated the average speeds of all the cars lifted and the race turned into the usual high speed traffic jam. Yawn. Oh well done Hamilton. Nice victory. I fancy a spot of lunch. Time to raid the fridge.
So there you have it. To rescue Formula One from the dullness of anonymous insectoid machines buzzing around the track in an endless technological blur, hold the races in Britain. Forget all those exotic foreign locales with guaranteed sunshine and yachts in the harbour. Bring it back home to Britain where the weather can turn a certain result into a jaw dropping spectacular. Or at least until technology eventually finds a gizmo to cope with British weather once and for all.
TV program Of The Week I nominate Love Island. Get a bunch of working class hunks and babes and watch them compete for lurve. Or not, if you have the gumption to change channels before you get sucked into this pointless farrago. The television announcer breathlessly sets the scene for us, musing over whether one guy or another will get a certain girl. Oh how the tension builds. Truth is, the entire rationale appears to be that we watch a bunch of nobodies trying to be somebody by shagging anybody in front of everybody. Truly missable.
In the last few weeks I've rediscovered a television series from the sixties. The Saint were the adventures of gentleman adventurer Simon Templar, played by Roger Moore, a sort of poor man's James Bond without the gadgets and evil villains taking over the world. Moore plays the part with his usual bond-esque humour but it is hard to imagine a real life counterpart so genteel and light hearted. In his world, just like Bond, he's infamous and known to everyone yet can wander around incognito until the he gets betrayed by a twist in the plot.
The thing is, like most sixties television in Britain, production values were very low scale. You can see that corridor is a painted backdrop. That car chase across Germany looks more like Essex. The train carriage is a simple sound stage set. Paris no more than a backdrop of Notre Dame. But you don't mind that, because again, like most sixties television, these programs tell stories. The adventures might be contrived, predictable, sometimes even completely implausible, but unlike modern series the episodes don't rely on emotional wrangling or deep significance. It's actually fun to watch, a guaranteed gritty fistfight in every episode, and the sixties cut scenes and cars add period flavour.
Of course, when Ian Ogilvy took over in the seventies, changing the charismatic Volvo P1800 sports car for a lumbering Jaguar XJS, the mood had changed. Gentleman adventurers were a thing of the past, aside from James Bond. American imports introduced us to the Ford Torino of Starsky & Hutch, Kojak and his lollipops, and in Britain, series like The Professionals had opted for a more down to earth and working class feel. The Seventies - when Britain joined Europe and the Old World finally withered away.
Hmmm... We've just decided to leave Europe. I wonder....
Pole To Port Stanley The Douglas DC6 is a pleasing shape in the air, a fifties four engine propliner descending from that old warhorse, the Dakota. In the night sky a few miles south of the Falklands, the Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp engines, each capable of 2400 horsepower, droned on. Below us, hazy patches of sea mist lit by the moon. A few whisps of cumulus drifted by. Above, the stars, strangely static despite our two hundred mile an hour cruise. Most of the passengers would be dozing off by now, too tired by the white knuckle ride on takeofff and the subsequent journey across the South Atlantic to stay awake, too distracted by the vibrating rumble and the stale interior to sleep well. Finally, the radio messages became more frequent, and the command comes through to descend and head for the approach to Port Stanley.
In real life my hand would have spread across four chunky levers, but with a couple of keypresses, the angry noise reduces to a quiet grumble, and the plane starts to lose altitude. But of course this isn't real. Finally with some time to relax and forget the busy schedule of the past year, it was time to break out the flight simulator.
I'd been watching Pole To Pole, a travel documentary by Michael Palin, and fancied a go at flying down there. My first attempt was hopelessly inept. I ought to have known better, given my real life pilot training, but I took off without planning and quickly found the cold air causing engine failure after take off, made worse by the prospect of ending up in the icy waters of the polar seas. Not good.
Okay. Lets think about this. The gravel runway in the simulator at the end of a rocky archipelago was too short for the heavily laden DC6 so I prepared every trick I could think of, and took a lot longer to warm the engines, running them up to power much more gently. Without that two hundred foot cliff off the end of the runway all would have been another disaster, and the random weather I took off in was appalling. All that had been coped with. There was the runway lights at Port Stanley.
Realism? Well, Microsoft might claim its as good as it gets, but I certainly wasn't. Might have to practice a bit more before I get that phone call from a desperate airline.
Crisis Ot The Week This star prize has to go to Brexit. it must have been obvious there was a chance the British public would choose to go, and everyone quickly forgot that until we kick off Article 50, nothing changes, and even then, there's still a two year negotiation period. Come on Simon Templar. Shoot the bad guys, kiss the girl, and put Britain back on course. At the moment you're a lot more real than some of our overpaid politicians.
Right now the wildlife in my home town is on full throttle. Most of the older foxes I got to know and name have disappeared, replaced by lots of young striplings who are busy learning the art of surviving in Swindon now that mum has kicked them out of the nest. Along one street in particular, you often see rubbish in those blue polythene bags the Council supply left out for collection but in a few instances, ripped open and the contents spilled across the pavement. I suppose for the most part residents blame the very same foxes I see every night, as well as the ones you hear shrieking in the distance. But they might be wrong.
In fact I know they are. I often see a badger on this one street in the early hours of the morning, waddling around at a brisk pace. Normally he sees me coming and scarpers. Once I surprised him in one of those tiny front yards you see in Edwardian brick terraces. Again, it made a quick escape. The other night I was heading the same way. There he was, snuffling at a bag of rubbish, a silhouette in the lamplight but unmistakeable.
It didn't matter to me. I had other places to go, and so continued along the pavement, wondering when the badger would notice. he didn't. Tucking into someone's discarded takeaway, he was lapping up every morsel and enjoying his free meal to the max. So engrossed he was that I walked right up to him, stunned he could be so careless. There he was, right at my feet, a wild badger doing badger things. The moment had to pass because I needed to carry onward, so I tapped the ground and quietly said hello. Immediately the badger realised something was not quite right. He tensed. Then, with a careful sideways glance, he realised the danger, and immediately fled under a nearby car. I went my way, he went his. Life goes on.
Oh No You Don't I live in what must be described a noisy part of town. Drunkards and partygoers often stroll past the house. In the quiet hours of the morning, they sometimes pay rather too much attention to my home than I would like. Last night I kept hearing noises that made me suspicious, as far as you can be when you're half asleep. Upon investigation I saw nothing untoward. However, later that same night, I heard the sound of a few miscreants being herded into a police van and driven off. Whatever they were getting up to, it ain't happening now.
Scramble of the Week At the local park it's usual to see a swan or two on the lake. On one particular morning there were five, lazily drifting around the surface of the water aimlessly as they do. Now once in the past I witnessed an angry swan cross that lake semi-airborne, heading right for me. It was a fairly intimidating sight. But for some reason these five swans decided it was time for a squadron scramble. All of them hurtled across the lake, their wings audibly beating, stretching forward and really going for it together. Erm....
At the last minute they realised the Luftwaffe were not bombing Swindon and gave up their race across the lake, settling down into the water again with a noisy bow wave. Oh good. But that was definitely an experience.
Some say... He's stuck in an ailing BBC motoring show. Some say.... He might soon have a new master. Poor old Stig. I've watched a couple of the new Top Gear episodes and I have to say it's a bit painful to watch. It's like the old Top Gear but without the same camaraderie or intelligent comment. Me no likee.
Can the show be rescued from the evil clutches of the mad radio presenting tyrant? Well, rumours suggest an F1 star is being lined up, and has already pleased fans with his approach. Poor old Stig. Being ruled by someone who can drive a car....
Black Cats Crossing My path Can't remember whether it's lucky or unlucky, but black cats have featured in superstition for a very long time. Personally I haven't noticed any correlation between the proximity of feline mammals and events within my life, but then I suppose I'm not that superstitious. The other night however was noteworthy. I was walking along a main road adjacent to a trading estate, which for those unacquainted with British life is an area of small industrial or business units. The nearest was about eighteen to twenty feet high. I saw a falling object, hitting the ground with almost no noise, a black flash. It was a cat, emaciated to a degree I've never seen before, almost like an animal composed of black pipe cleaners, which had apparently jumped off the roof in a desperate move to avoid death by starvation. How the heck did it get up there? Clearly an omen. Never live on a roof, my friend. The Gods have spoken!
More Bad Dreams I have two strange dreams to report. The first was a night time foray with me at the wheel of a car, heading into a rainy old Victorian terrace street, only to encounter trees lying in the road and a car that refused to obey the laws of physics by neatly skidding into position in a side street without obeying a single control input from me. A message that I'm not in control of my life. Good grief, I didn't need a dream to tell me that.
The second was more interesting. I was at the wheel of a van minibus, filled with arguing migrant workers from some obscure poverty stricken part of the world. So I drove off, and followed the road into an area that seemed to be fenced off. Quite soon I found the road blocked. Oh pooh. So I turned around, and found my starting point blocked off too. No matter. using the van as a sort of low speed battering ram I pushed through the temporary fencing, whereupon hordes of nearby policemen descended on me and demanded to know what I thought I was doing disobeying road signs and breaking through their palisades. Fill in this form? Summons? Oh pooh. Still, at least it was only a dream, one I have no wish to live out. A clear warning from the spirit world to drive with due care and attention even though I don't drive and haven't for some years. Still, warnings are warnings.
Loyalty Card Of The Week One of my local fast food outlets has for some time issued me with a loyalty card. Pay more than five pounds and I get a stamp. Five stamps and I get a free meal. it's been a good deal for me, I have to say. Only the other day the proprietor refused to stamp it because... erm.... Well he's from a racial minority and when upset his English is difficult to follow. So now I can only have my loyalty card stamped if I spend more than five pounds on meals numbered one to eight. I think that's what he said. But it says if I spend more than five pounds I get a stamp. He reluctantly stamped it, quote, for the last time, unquote. I see..... So what have falling black cats, fallen trees, and obstructions on her majesty's highways got to do with problems in paying for food? This omen business is hard.
I do most errands the green and healthy way, with long walks along busy roads. I drown out traffic noise with noise cancel earphones, typically playing historical lectures. Still I miss parts, such as due to the arrogant ear-bleeding level of gov't sirens going to typically false med emergencies such as to request recreational pain pills. So I switched to histories of composers like http://www.robertgreenbergmusic.com/great-courses/ where there would be song samples and content that won't suffer much by occasional interruptions.
By the way, I just read that since our police sometimes clear vagrant campers from 100% blocking sidewalks on my busy route, a top federal official has punitively blocked milliion$ of our fed tax money from reaching here. Idiot limousine lefty... he expects us to abandon foot travel for electric cars. Many of these vagrants are not poor but admit to being awash in benefits like fake disability. Some flew 5 to 10 airline hours to reach this place, famous on the internet for "blind compassion" where they can spend their benefits purely on intoxicants with no obligations.
Anyway, I'll point out some lecture anecdotes that surprised me. My listening was fractured, so I sought confirmation in (fractured) Wikipedia which normally contradicted the lecturer. Start with Shostakovitch, the stark modernist of a century ago. I have visited his son and grandson in their home, so I hope I don't sound ungrateful for only liking one work which was sort of a redo of some Italian work. Right after WW1 there was disinterest in the harsh mechanical sound, so he sought out income from a quite delightful and accessible piece that I wish I remembered the name of.
He redid many of his own works as well, just as they were falling out of copyright. Most of the lectures were about the drama of him trying to survive the wrath of Stalin. I liked Shost. quotes on Stalin being worse than Hitler for Russia, which still acknowledges the almost infinite horror of Hitler. Putin has whitewashed the textbooks about Stalin, and the west is content with Hitler rather than Stalin or Mao as symbolizing the essence of killer.
The lecturer digressed into a conspiracy theory that Stalin was murdered because he was about to start a war with China and terrorize Russian Jews. Wiki seemed to carefully shoot that down in favor of the conventional natural(ish) death theory. The supposed assassin Beria seemed unlikely. He was a depraved counterpart to Hitler's Heydrich, both sort of secret intel police heads that enjoyed personally torturing and killing... especially young civilian girls picked up off the streets daily.
It was not too long ago when construction at Beria's old mansion turned up many young female skeletons in his garden. Daughters of high officials up to Stalin were warned to not accept a ride from Beria. Reading histories of Stalin (a terrorist even when young), Beria, and Heydrich are somehow more depressing than Hitler who at least espoused some appeal toward ideals rather then being brazenly devoted to nothing but evil.
Lastly Tchaikovsky and his music, maybe only matched by Vivaldi in terms of accessibility. I came to realize that practically his only work I grooved on was "Serenade for Strings" https://archive.org/details/SerenadeForStringsInCMajorOp.48 which the lecturer said was flagged by "serenade" to uniquely be a pleasant interlude. Other works seem dramatic to bombastic accompaniments to his high strung life. The lecturer called him a serial molester of slightly underage boys, including his servants. One committed suicide, which was followed by writing of his ultimate gushy heartbreak work (I think in Swan Lake) which I have seen middle aged women melt to.
Wiki doesn't take that shrill approach, saying just that he enjoyed man-friends more than his bizarre marriage, and that he died in a cholera epidemic rather than suicide for being outed. I have heard endless hand wringing supporting the latter theory, that he was driven to suicide due to society's homophobia. The lecturer took a strange middle path, that Tchai .killed himself out of vanity to not be remembered as a gay composer. He was about to be reported as gay to the Czar in some minor investigation, but there were no punishments for that except raised eyebrows. The lecturer said Tchai. knew how to easily avoid cholera outbreaks, but was so jealous about his hard-won conventional legacy that he took a poison that mimicked that agonizing, drawn-out-for-days death!
tt was inevitable really. I know Britain has a reputation for being a damp country and my home town a reputation for being rainy among the British, but eventually the winds turn northward and bring hot weather from the south. Which is why, as I go about my business in the town centre, all of a sudden there are crowds of bellies and shorts ambling around like wot you do in warm weather. It's as if a switch goes on in the British mentality that urges them to wear those holiday clothes one more time before life goes back to dreary damp ordinariness.
More Foxenders Sadly, I have to confirm the death of Frodo. There he was, laying inert by the roadside as I got a lift home from a colleague. Not to worry. Young foxes are everywhere. Far more than I saw last year. I saw one grab hold of a discarded lager can and run off with a foxy grin. I dunno.... The youth of today....
Strange Dreams Last night I had one of these strange episodic dreams. I was a detective in an American style undercover cop drama, albeit one in the lunatic dreamworld. The villain was a London style gangster who was suitably paranoid and psychopathic, who was ready to eliminate any minion who did not answer the phone after three rings. The crime had something to do with piles of documents. In the light of day, wide awake, and with the dream already fading in the memory, I cannot understand at all what the idea was or how any profit was made. No matter. The crime boss wanted me to do this task, the cops wanted me to do this task undercover, and I wanted to stay alive, a task made all the harder by the female chief detective who insisted on being in charge and wore her clothes in a style that amounted to pornography, almost like an open challenge to any male stupid enough to notice.
Funny thing was, having gone through the ambling drama once, I went through the dream again, albeit with some differing details. Only with the same villain and the same plot. So it was just like those television thrillers after all.
Promotion of the Week My job is strictly speaking a temporary post, albeit 'ongoing' work. However, to get the position as semi-permanent I had to prove myself, working hard, being on time, show willingness to undertake the most menial and pointless tasks. Just lately one of the regulars has been off on holiday (How does he afford that?) and his replacement, of the rare female warehouse worker variety, has been made semi-permanent after one week. Okay. I can deal with that.
I downloaded a free Amazon Kindle book which was a memoir of a Brit reporter stuck inside Paris under siege by Prussia. 1870 was an interesting period where the unified architectural redo beloved by the world today was being started, and then fired upon, for the oddest of reasons. Napoleon3 was trying to suppress urban revolutionists on one hand by making wide blvds that couldn't be barricaded against gov't military response, and on the other hand by baiting the Prussians into a war which could bolster French patriotic unity.
Well, like another free Kindle memoir from the Confederate war department in US civil war, it was an interesting time covered by a rambling lousy memoirist. It worked better when I mixed in readings of a quality history book of FrancoPrussian war, which was one of the bloodiest yet most needless of the 1800's. Bismark also wanted to bait France into war in order to rally and unify Germany; southern parts of modern Germany had been losing interest in joining up with Prussia, just as Parisians were increasing hostile to their agrarianist national gov't.
Well, I haven't read that far and am already forgetting stuff, but I have the nerve to make a few observations. Napoleon3 is thought to be the dunce because he was tricked into declaring war first over a ridiculous nicety about how a wedding was called off. Bismark got the appearance of not initiating war and was able to win it with better organization and cannons (although worse small arms). I do give points to Napoleon3 for trying sort of a "suicide by cop" approach of wandering a field under fire when things first looked hopeless (his companions were hit), then surrendering to stop bloodshed well before ammo ran low. Bismark wanted to shell Paris vs his superiors trying a standoff first.
My most bold observation is that there seem tremendous echos of 1870 tactics in WW2. It almost seems like WW2 wasn't an attempt to redo the freakish case of WW1 more effectively, but to address or relive the more conventional issues of 1870 war. In the case of 1940 France, it was still hobbled by terrible communications and disunity which made it hard to benefit from some superior technology like tanks and fortresses.
In the case of Germany, so many of the oddball concerns of Hitler which were in his generals memoirs seem to be avoiding pitfalls from the 1870 war. Hitler was obsessed by the exact performance of every small arm, maybe recalling the much superior 1870 French rifle and crude machine gun. Many 1870 units squandered ammo to a disastrous extent, and Hitler insisted certain wasteful units not be resupplied with ammo as a punishment that could mean wipe out. Speed of deployment problems of 1870 would be ruthlessly corrected, etc... I may not be explaining this well, but there seem echos galore.
"It's Starwars Day" proclaimed one of my colleagues at work. Huh? What's that all about? Well, it turns out that "May The Fourth Be With You" has become an annual urban festival amongst those who cannot tell fantasy from real life. My boss noted my disapproving expression and chuckled.
So in order to restore the balance of the Universe and allow the Dark Side its right of public expression, I suggest "May the Sixth Be With You", which for those who have lived in backwoods cabin for the last three decades is a play on words between the date, sixth, and the alien dark side faction, the Sith (Who featured in Starwars Episode One, The Phantom menace.
Okay. You can go back to sleep now.
Wake Up Call Trumpy has done it. He's got the Republican US presidential nomination. A triumph for celebrity tycoonship. In Britain we're a bit more canny, preventing Alan Sugar from world domination by making him a noble. However international politics will change as a result if he wins the final vote. Expect hard bargaining and a gruelling thirteen week 'last man standing' battle as America seeks its Apprentice. Talk about the Dark Side....
Cute Moment of the Week The other day I discovered Herbie the Hedgehog has a friend. There they were, both snuffling in the grass together. Awww..... Funny thing is normally hedgehogs end up as a somewhat flat pile of squishy goo, and given that Herbie snuffles next to a main road, you have to admire his survival instincts. Or perhaps he stretches out with his feelings? Letting the Force guide him in his do or die struggles with Dark Side motorists?
Right now - this moment - it just started pouring with rain. Sunshine and showers the report had said and lo and behold as soon as I risk a journey to the local library, fate punishes me for my presumption with a cascade of water down the windows. So now I'm trapped in the same building as the rest of library going public.
Oh ye gods, the rain it doth rain harder. It has just become a veritable deluge out there. Stand by for more updates as we go Live At The Library.
Changes at the Industrial Estate Every day as I plod back and forth from work I pass through an industrial estate, and in particular, the back of one factory. Over the years a growth of silos, ducts, electrical transformers, cabling, piping, and extractor fans has spread out of the back wall like some industrial fungus. The racket it used to make was extraordinary. I swear one of the reasons I got into trouble not so long with benefit payments was because I answered my mobile in that locality and the person on the other end thought I was stood next to a jet airliner at an airport.
Now it's all gone. Swept away by the cutting torch. All the myriad holes in the wall covered over with plywood and wire mesh. And in it's place the inevitable result of a blank canvas. The graffiti mice are busy decorating the wall with the usual urban hieroglyphics.
More Foxy Stuff I saw three foxes hunting together a week ago. Three. If that's a mating trio, something strange is going on in Fox-Enders. Having spotted a number of foxes I don't recognise, clearly the wee beasties are doing well. Bertie the Badger still noses around peoples houses late at night, and Herbie the Hedgehog still snuffles in the grass beside a main road. Oh... Hang on....
Weather Latest The rain has stopped. yes, ladies and gentlemen, in a surprise move Nature has decided that Swindon will be spared any further downpour, or at least until I venture out of the library. And now, back to the normal program....
Yet More Foxiness I was told something interesting by a work colleague. He keeps a young cat and because he lives close to a main road, he only lets it out late at night. One night he'd gone back out to the call the cat in. It didn't answer. Naturally he began to worry. Again and again he called but no cat. Fearing the worst, he was about to give up when his precious pet wandered back through the undergrowth happy as larry, with his latest friend, a young fox, walking beside him. Awww.... Cute.
Secure Shopping Now that the new shopping mall is available and just around the corner from where I live, I have begun availing myself of its products and produce. This frequent visiting has resulted in the security guards watching me closely, and to be fair, some of the comments made by the fresh meat staff haven't been exactly complimentary. The other day I'd had enough of the close scrutiny, so as the security guard passed me, I followed in a non-provocative manner watching him. He got the message. Now they watch me from thirty yards further away.
And Finally The sun is out so it's bye for now. This is rainy old Swindon you know. Use that sunshine while it lasts.
What is still worthwhile to watch on cable TV? I can't save $ by "cutting the cable", because they negotiated a discount to my neighborhood on the basis that everyone must pay for at least basic service. This when my favorite genre of history documentaries disappears from History channel, and reappears free on youtube. Well, some channels like Smithsonian or Arts & Entertainment have good detective-type documentaries about recent history, which BTW go by different titles in different parts of the world.
"Air Disasters" covers intrinsically interesting causes of a particular airliner crash, but gosh you have to tolerate some slow pacing from this Ontario/Quebec subsidized production. You can see their points coming a mile away, maybe amid clumsy attempts to bluff you. It's not that Canadians are slow, but I think their media experts have brain-drained to the U.S. where they are quite prominent. They tend to wash out the color into a pale grey... is this dreariness for hiding cheesy low budget re-creation filmsets? But the ultimate findings turn out to be fascinating and surprisingly nuanced. I used to think it was knee jerk "blame the pilot" which they do at 70%, but not solely or lightly since the investigators tend to be pilots too.
Smithsonian channel now follows this with another docuhour "Alaskan Aircrash Investigations", which is a bit more lively and colorful, but disturbing for a taxpayer. Alaska has a crash every other day in the summer, typically in a tiny 1950's era plane doing some kind of cowboy antics. Big budget investigations seem to be made as if they were airliners, with representatives of various federal departments, engine manufacturers, and airframe manufacturers who plod around swampy crash sites with a band of sheriffs to fight off bears or clingy family of victims.
Helicopters bring remains back, which is sometimes rebuilt and tested over a thousand miles away... presumably to see if a device from 1952 can be improved so that the one other surviving example must do an upgrade. Well, it can be good, like an illegal heater upgrade done to a whole fleet of bush planes proves to be capable of knocking occupants unconscious from CO poisoning in minutes. They get friends of the pilot to give gushy background info thru the subterfuge of filming before official final report, which often condemns pilot negligence.
Similar in spirit is A&E "The First 48" which has long covered real who-done-it murder investigations in a fast paced format. But now it is dragging with a lot of gushy emoting by the fam/friends of the victim, which may be responsible for cutting down from 2 to 1 case per episode hour. Another bad trend is the victims and perps seem to come from the same pool of dysfunctional, blatantly lawless, and self sabotaging in lifestyle. It's not a question of how to possibly dream up the rare potential killer, but how to eliminate the many obvious violent drug dealing 18 yr olds, each with multiple welfare baby mommas.
This isn't even a fair depiction of murderers in general, but more the case for poorly policed areas like Chicago - recently famous for becoming a murder war zone after implementing "compassionate" minimal prison sentences. I remember older episodes with more interesting suspects, like a cagey old hermit who would only talk (indeed confess) to a rubenesque policewomen using just a hint of flirt dangled like a carrot. Little progress seems to ever be made without deceiving suspects or brandishing a potential death sentence, practices probably on the way out.
A more satisfying series along the same lines is "Homicide Hunter" which covers a more diverse slice of cases in one city by one detective (Kenda). He wasn't the first choice for this somewhat low budget series, but his low-key skills in a non-war-zone city in Colorado forces the series to show the quirks of real stranger-than-fiction stuff that appears among apparently well-meaning people in benign everyday surroundings. It's repeating on Investigation Discovery channel which you may channel surf by due to typically cheesy overwrought re-creations of crime.
What I would like to see more of is the genre of sitcoms that satirize modern life. A trying-to-be sane or nice person like Alan Harper colliding with cheerfully off kilter types like hedonist Charlie Sheen in "2.5 Men". One of the first of this type was "Married with Children"s dad trying to survive his cheerfully out of control wife and kids. Maybe these don't age well because with time the craziness of some characters becomes more culturally accepted and the striving to be respectable is less and less identified with. But maybe one more such series for dunces like me?
The agency had booked me for a very early start at a warehouse an hours walk away. At that time of night the streets of Swindon are usually empty, perhaps just an occaisional drunken bellow from some unseen club-goer bumping into pavements, or more usually, a passing car taking less inebriated club-goers home.
And so it was quiet. All of a sudden a white BMW blasted past me, almost out of nowhere. I have no idea what speed the driver was doing but it was seriously over the top. It was so fast, the engine so aggressively snarling, that the effect was startling. it actually felt like violence. I've never experienced that sensation before, and I'm well acquainted with fast cars.
Later on I passed an industrial estate and experienced a bright flash. What the....? My first impression was that someone had taken a [photo in the night, but there was no-one about. How odd. No matter. Anyway I arrived at work and being sociable I began chatting to my boss about idiot BMW drivers attempting to break the land speed record in town streets. He interrupted me as I began and said "You're going to tell me about a bright light?"
No I wasn't, but it turned out that his colleague had seen it too. The whole sky lit up for a moment./ Some of my fellow workers saw it as well, one describing it as 'Seriously weird'.. As we worked through the small hours of the morning there were some news report over the radio - always impossible to hear properly when lorries are reversing in and out of the premises and sweaty blokes pushing parcels of all sorts here and there. Eventually we found out that it was an atmospheric disturbance and nothing to worry about. Not the North Koreans then. Oh good.
Foxenders Almost every night there's been life's little dramas played out among the fox population. Urban foxes are pests, certainly, but I can't help watching their activities with some casual interest. They all have names now. Ferdinand, the big male, is unusual in that he just isn't fazed by human beings - I've walked past him within feet before now.. He's potentially dangerous. Having kept a low profile since Christmas I had thought he was dead and gone, but no, I spotted him, glaring at me in the dark as he always does. Only the other night I incurred his displeasure by disturbing him as he was getting it orn with his chosen vixen, who ran off when I strode into view. Ferdinand stayed put and glared at me.
Fuzzy always retreats in the direction of his set when he gets disturbed. He was injured and limping not so long ago - I haven't seen him since. Ferkles simply moves on and knows that once he's inside another persons garden, pursuit is unlikely. Flakey is well funny. Always going into a panic when disturbed and never knowing which way to turn. Then there's Frodo, with his distinctive black ring on his tail and a penchant for disappearing much sooner than most foxes who see you coming. Lately Frodo has found himself a girlfriend and he's become positively careless. You can actually see a dazed grin on his face. Bless.
I have heard it said that foxes kill and eat cats. I don't believe that, or at least, consider it unusual. Reason being of course is that I see foxes and cats co-existing quite comfortably. The other night I disturbed one fox - Ferkles I think - and as it ran off to a safe distance it passed a cat sat on the pavement. The cat simply watched it run past and didn't stir. Didn't even tense up nervously like cats do if they perceive danger. A cat who knows foxes won't bother him.
Let me review some of my timid steps of using new consumer technology... nothing electronic, but more on the humble side:
With tired looking bath tile and kitchen counters, I avoided the expense and trouble of replacement with some of those special purpose epoxy paints. As I feared, the finished look was a little uneven due to non-ideal temperatures and applicator tools. But the coverage of any porous grout and a few tile cracks gave a great waterproof and uniform look.
The only drawback was the tile paint didn't stand up to the rare abrasion very well, but little problem for me because I was that rare person who didn't take the opportunity to change the color. A scrape is invisible and typically still waterproof. Oddly the (non-matching) counter paint is bulletproof from abrasion, something I was concerned about even tho I never chop stuff directly on the counter.
There is one quirk which I just now realized may be my fault. The counter stains from food! A dot of tomato sauce or orange juice will be instantly tattooed on the surface. Well, it is very faint, but will take about a month of regular cleanings before that shadow disappears. I guess it is my fault due to sanding the results to give a uniform somewhat rustic look from the patches that were more or less glossy. It must be porous, so I guess I should wax it or something.
Next challenge was my car battery dying between starts. Over time the alternator gets weak and various gadgets stay annoyingly active when the car is off. I had one of those jump start batteries that had lost it's oomph, so tracked down the few replacements that weren't already sold out from a nation's harsh winter. First tried one, then two small lithium batteries that plugs in a cig lighter. They are actually feeble chargers that can rarely give enough help, but turned out useful for locking or unlocking a trunk which can only be done electrically.
Then I got a medium lead-acid jump start battery which sometime would do the job after couple minutes, but finally I had to buy a cheapo full size extra car battery with jump start cables. I normally wheel all 4 of these on a handcart to start the car! But the best help was couple dollar battery cutoff switch. I had tried to install the wrong kind long ago, but this new one did the trick. It was preassembled all wrong, probably due to a return before I got it, but after correction it almost negates the need for jump starts and may someday prevent a theft.
The last new item was one of those Turkish pistol replicas that they use to fire blanks in the air during celebrations. They seem legal in any state other than NY, and even in Canada if it has a flare attachment. It is so fascinating because mine is a near twin to a real Beretta semiauto model which is made in Turkey anyway. Apparently it is legal in (eastern?) Europe for firing nonlethal tear gas or in Russia for rubber bullets.
Anyway in my area gun ownership is extremely rare and I can hardly remember my only pistol experience on an old model 1911 automatic. Now thru handling the action, I can evaluate crime events with the more modern pistols. Even today a gov't employee reportedly shot thru adjoining offices when cleaning his Glock. I had heard how super safe they were due to NO manual safety (but 4 automatic safeties?) but how does this apply when cleaning them? BTW, there was little danger of hitting anybody because gov't employees here are eternally absent or on junkets. Today's news covered how great it was only 31% prison guards called in sick during super bowl rather than the usual more than a third. And how it was unavoidable due to monopoly gov't union rules - outrageous.
Another advantage besides understanding crime reports (robbers with jammed guns, etc) was hand strength and dexterity issues. I sometimes have to rig and unrig sailboats for hours at a time until my fingers cramp up into distorted positions. Handling this pistol with it's stiff Turkish springs lets me for example compare right and left hands in the decocking process or whatever. My left really needs more exercise, for which this strange toy is the perfect exercise machine. BTW, I didn't get the more risky model that fires blanks forward - oddly enough my elementary school had a special presentation on how dangerous those can be to any finger or skull in the way.
I'm getting fed up of being labelled. Categorised. And mostly in some derogatory fashion. So I've decided to issue a public statement.
Am I gay? No. Absolutely not. Never was, never will be. If two blokes want to go off together and do whatever two blokes do to each other, fine, get on with it - Just don't bother me with it. I know quite a few people will have heard otherwise and find that hard to believe - some will refuse to believe it because it makes them look like fools or bigots - but that's the way it is. All my sexual partners were female. I'm single due to circumstance, not preferences.
Am I a Conshy? No. Absolutely not. Never was, never will be. For the uninitiated a 'Conshy' is slang for "Concientious Objector", or someone who refuses military service out of some moral, political, or religious objection. I would point out that I tried to join the RAF twice in my younger days. The first time I was turned away because "There are no vacancies". The second time I was told I couldn't hear properly.
It is true that my rejection eventually came as a relief. My teenage urge to serve my country had wilted with experience of the Air Training Corps and an increasing desire to forge my own path rather than follw my fathers footsteps. As it happened, by my twenties I wanted to be a musician, a path I followed for many years.
But despite these meanderings through life, I have had no issues with military service from any concientious grounds.
Am I Trying To Live On Benefits? No. Absolutely not. Never was and never will be. Truth is, I've been told in a letter from more than a year ago that I'm no longer eligible. So I couldn't even if I wanted to. As it happens, I like my creature comforts and that requires I pay for them, thus I want a profitable living even if no-one particularly wants to provide me with one. A shame really, because I come well qualified, capable, reliable, adaptable, and put up with no end of personal discomfort to turn up on time every day I'm required to earn my keep.
Finally.... There you go. My statement is complete. I'll swear to these facts in a court of law or on anything sacred because they're true. I know they are. No-one can take that away from me, however hard they try.
The last few weeks have had so many urgent problems for me that I didn't add them to any to-do list; I figured they burned in my mind well enough. But now after swatting down several of them, some kind of cathartic release has left my mind a blank and probably forgetting some remaining urgency. Maybe I will remember by reviewing events, or else just get mad at the needlessness of it all.
Starts with my car which eternally drains battery flat. A full day at a high rep dealer only provided a list of red-flagged and yellow-flagged nonelectrical problems they had no time to fix. No improvement with battery, so I added to my collection of cordless and corded emergency chargers. These conveniently connect thru cig lighter, but thus are so low power to be almost worthless. Caveat with these newer digitized models is they won't work if you fall to half charge. They decide you have an obsolete 6 volt battery if your 12V one falls below half.
Anyway, it was while waiting for a battery booster to be dropped off to me, I noticed an email claiming package delivery just failed because no answer at door. Wha? I ran madly around the neighborhood and found the truck and got it. I diagnosed that the sort of doorbell system to our building utilized a land line that had gone out. Actually that is my telephone and dsl line too, and for 10 days up to xmas I couldn't receive packages or even send them due to waiting let in the repair man.
The day after xmas I mailed packages by a special "media" rate... with tracking numbers I can see them still sitting within walking distance and estimated to take 3 weeks. The phone was fixed when I came back, but then went down again. How was I supposed to let in the repairman when I was so cut off? With the usual more-than-a-week response time I got another fix. They had disconnected me instead of another intended person. This happens all the time for me with cable TV but the weird thing is they need to send someone out to fiddle with actual copper... the last one talked about removing corrosion as well!
Oh, and the main threat to having no phone or virtual doorbell is that I am overdue for a mandatory plumbing upgrade. I don't have any carrier plan for a cell phone by the way, just 911 capability. Now is about the deadline when a letter threatened to break down the door of anyone in the building who hadn't shown proof of upgrade. Unresolved, overdue, but not forgotten.
There was also the usual crises of getting estimated taxes prepaid when I don't have enough info on what the amount should be. And the infinite pain of getting signed for mandatory medical coverage with it's usual 50% yearly price rise for 50% less coverage. It pays for almost no genuine need, just ensures that wildly irresponsible self inflicted politically correct problems are coddled with years of acupuncture, med maryjane or whatever.
Unbelievable hostile human factors where the fed system thought I was a different person than the state system, where one had mandatorily added middle initial. I signed up at the start of window only to be bombarded by daily shrill messages that warned my signup was incomplete. A web page and the most incompetent, rude, complacent-on-his bloated-fed-benefits helpline monkey suggested my signup had worked. No confirmation is given before the window is closed and you are cut off and subject to penalty. You have to pay by year end, but may not see a bill until days before that, if ever.
Well it goes on and on. I remember a time when I could leave the house for travel time, but now am a full time idiot-manager. I don't recall some other deadline that I think was looming, so maybe I will be the idiot for not putting it on a to do list.
I saw a report on BBC News recently about how the western nations are going to have to set aside their usual taste for meat dinners and instead gorge themselves on insect protein, because the insects are cheaper and require far less land to produce in quantity. The problem is that the worlds population is growing. And that is why eating insects instead of meat isn't a solution to the problem of starvation - it's merely feeding the problem.
You see, the natural limit of human population has always been around two billion. Whether it was war, disease, diet, natural disaster, or whatever, our global population never really challenged this number even when civilisation was invented. Unfortunately we're now getting better at avoiding death, so now the populations of the world are getting bigger, especially in those regions who had previously seen childbirth as a lottery where having more kids was an investment in the future.
The thing is, if struggling populations are fed and cared for, they breed. That's simply how humans behave, just like almost every other species of life on the planet. All we're doing with these humanitarian initiatives to rid the world of hunger is creating a bigger problem in the future, when the system really cannot meet demands. But there's another problem. As in nature, if an enviroment cannot support the species, they die off. It's horrible and I wouldn't wish that on anyone, but aren't we going to have to face that unpalatable choice sooner or later? Can the West allow a few to starve to prevent far more from starvation when the bubble bursts?
It isn't an easy choice, although many will prefer to follow thewir social instincts and try to assist. But then, aren't we guilty of ignoring the future threat because we see a different problem in our own time? Politicians like to say they're building futures for us. They aren't. Maybe loading the dice for another generation, or more likely, lubricating their own careers and prosperity. But of course when this bubble bursts we'll probably all be dead and gone. So why should we care?
Quote of the Week The President of the USA has said that the recent UN Global Warming deal is the 'best way to save the planet'. No, it isn't, because the planet isn't in any danger whatsoever. What is threatened is a change to the enviroment we don't like, can't cope with, or spoils our safe little vision of daily routine. Human beings have been extremely lucky since the last glaciation - our global climate has been quite stable for 8000 years. But now it's all going horribly wrong. The reason isn't industry - nature can pollute the enviroment far worse than human efforts - but our growing population. There are too many of us now and that's what is driving the scale of damage our species is doing to its own interests, though I agree a great many other species aren't particularly wel suited to the world we're creating. So now we're doing a deal to control the worst of it. As if. Since when has humanity ever been compleltely succesful at controlling the world around them? Truth is, the climate is going change no matter what these politicians agree to. So deal with it.
What a difference a letter makes. There I was, jobsearching in a mad desperate attempt to keep the authorities happy, when everything went horribly wrong. They have quotas for finding dole cheats and unfortunately my number came up, even though I was exceeding their demands by an order of magnitude. So innocent or not - I was declared guitly by any pretext and the money stopped. Luckily for me an employment agency eventually found me ongoing work - though I have to say, for two months it looked pretty bleak for me.
The Job Center had sent me a letter telling me that from the 2nd of November 2014 they could not pay me. No reason given, just that. I'd already realised that the money wasn't going to continue but by then I was trying to find someone who would look kindly upon poor wee Caldrail and give him a job before he ended up destitute. Just today I received a letter from the Job Center, more than a year later, explaining that I may not have been properly informed about my rights concerning the job center sanction and offering me a chance to appeal.
Are they kidding? A year afterward? I wasn't even sanctioned officially. The advisor never said the word. She just stopped my money after I'd followed her demands under duress and then had her boss send me the original letter saying no more cash from now on. That was, therefore, the second time she had kept my claim open while I was thrown off the dole for her own purposes. I knew she was dishonest - I'd already told her that to her face. Now I have the proof.
These days the unemployed get a poor rap but not all of us were dole cheats trying to eke out an easy living on benefits. Some of us genuinely couldn't get employers to show any interest at all. I am thoroughly disgusted at the shamefaced exploitation of unemployed people that goes on. I'm well aware that many jobseekers are only making excuses or making token efforts, but at the same time, I was used and thrown down the toilet. I wonder if that advisor got promoted for her unceasing efforts to fight for truth, justice, and the government way? At any rate, truth and justice is something that is now officially ddenied a great many people. Unemployed? Sorry, but that's a label that will get you nowhere in Cameron's Britain.
There I was, sat at a computer in my local library happily webbing and internetting, when some bloke stolled past, leaned over, and whispered to me as he passed by. "Turn to christianity and all your problems will go away" He said.
Well, problems are just part of life, which means his offer has an unintended fatal aspect. The thing is though, what he just offered can be considered at best unsavoury opportunism, or at worst, a form of blackmail. If he can stop my problems, then his morality in not stopping them until he benefits from it - and lets be straight about this - he intends to profit from me - is typical of the greedy Romanesque attitudes that christianity harbours to this day. I had actually decided not to post this issue on my blog after al - my temper having subsided - but since I've been threatened by some anonymous person to take back what I said or else, I've decided 'or else'. I'm not a servant.
Not that long ago, a woman I used to know from my school days engaged me in conversation. Or more accurately, a sales pitch. She told me how one of her colleagues astounded doctors with a medical miracle as his ailing heart was mysteriously replaced by a healthy strong one following prayers when his mortal fate seemed imminent. I too could be part of her movement and enjoy the patronage of her favourite supreme being. To be honest, I suspect modern medicine and some obvious dishonesty by her colleagues has more to do with the man's recovery, if indeed he was ever ill.
This is an issue that's been part of my life since I was a child. My mother made my conversion more important than any other aspect of my upbringing, and even to the end of her days, tried to get me to adopt her religion. Her methodology was to create situations so that I would learn about life and God. All she succeeded in was rendering me utterly baffled as to why things happened the way they did. And most importantly, she had made this very same offer. That I could be everything I wanted to be - if I signed up. She was however a somewhat misguided woman, however well intended, and don't they say that the Path to Hell is paved with god intentions?
The structure of christian belief hides a form of virtual enslavement that I cannot agree to. I am, after all, somewhat Roman in my desire to preserve my free will and self determination despite the best efforts of those who want to pull my strings. Indeed, why would I turn to something I do not believe in? God will not rescue me from my problems because firstly I'm almost certainly too insignificant as an individual compared to the scale of the cosmos, and secondly because he doesn't exist. He's fiction. Invented by a society thousands of years ago to perform a social purpose that I refuse utterly to comply with.
The truth is that divine intervention has a rather more mundane and mortal origin. Fate is the sum of all decisions and natural forxes. So my answer to you, Sir, whoever you were, is mind your own business. I'm not interested in your stupid cult, your false god, or your dishonest offer.
Certain musicians have a hold on you...they get you early in life, and then stay with you forever. Not in a bad way...just that something about their work resonates with you forever. And everyone has more than one. For me, the list includes:
Who's that last one, you ask? One of the most prolific Japanese anime and soundtrack composers and musicians ever.
The funny part is that I'm not an anime fan, per se. Quite literally 99.9% of it I couldn't give rat's patoot about (as my dad's family is fond of saying). Then again, that's true for most entertainment--I'm just not interested in most any of the story plots, acting, etc. The last time I consistently watched a scripted and acted television show? Um...it's been a while, although the latest BBC offering of Sherlock does have me completely hooked. Even this year's season of Archer I haven't kept up with, mostly because Mr OfLove is too tired to be awake and paying attention at 10pm--since it's a favorite of us both, it feels a bit like cheating if I watch it without him.
When I was in high school, Macross Plus came out--obviously first in Japan, but it quickly came over here to the US. The story hooked me completely: set in the future and potentially in an alternate universe, it combined Romeo and Juliet (but majorly higher on the maturity level) with beautiful animation of mecchas in flight, and all with the underlying themes of justice and social acceptance permeating throughout. Yep, teenager DoL was completely hooked...and the music. Wow...how do I describe it? It was created by Yoko Kanno, who then was just starting her career of creating music for entertainment, but more specifically for anime and certain video game titles. But the soundtrack for Macross Plus was jazzy, complex, with a definite techno application to jazz, and this is especially true since one of the 'characters' in the movie/series is Sharon Apple--a computer-generated singer, with the voice and stylistics of her 'producer', Myung Fang Lone. The entire soundtrack is not of one language, but technically four: Japanese, English, French, and Zendradi (the made-up language of main alien race in the story). I love it...and have never been able to shake it.
Fast forward many, many years, to when I met the now Mr OfLove. Being that he's half Japanese, it's practically genetic for him to latch onto anime, but in his case he became a complete anime nerd. If it's a choice between watching anime and anything else on the entertainment field...nope, anime every time. When he first learned about my general disdain for anime, but my love of Macross Plus, he took it upon himself to figure out what possible shows I would like. He's very selective and careful in his choices, and some of the ones he's shown me I have fallen for (Soul Eater being chief among them).
And then he tried Cowboy Bebop. Story...excellent. Combo of drama, comedy, action, and suspense. Set in the near future but in an alternate universe, the core characters are all bounty hunters with intriguing pasts. Some episodes are silly, others are freaky--even one that damn near gave me nightmares due to some horrific images. But overall, holy carp, really, really good. But even beyond the story line, what I love about Cowboy Bebop is the soundtrack. The opening theme is what I'm linking here...but the entire soundtrack is a combo of swing, funk, jazz, with very complex rhythms. My musical mind went into overdrive...I know this style! Sure enough, in the credits: Music by Yoko Kanno, she of Macross Plus. It was a signature sound that I just couldn't get...oh, and the band that performs the opening, The Seatbelts...that's Yoko Kanno's band, or one of them; she has a tendency to do a composition project, then form a band to play the music, even record it for sale...but rarely goes on tour with them. She prefers to stay in Japan, since she readily admits that, while she understands and speaks some English and French, she doesn't do it well. What a pity...I'd love to hear them live!
Side note: You know you're in a major drought when a minor weather system has the potential to dump a whopping .25 inches of rain, at max, in your area...and it's a major news story. Yikes...could someone send us some storms, real storms, please? Not just one or two...but a couple, then a break for a week, then a couple more...then another week-long break...continuously for 2 months? Then we *might* be ok for water 'round these parts.
The Grand National was run this weekend. For those who don't know about it, it is the biggest horse race in Europe.
The reason I mentioned it in my blog is that something caught my ear this time, and that was when, after the race, the BBC commentator said, ". . . there were no fatalities this year", in a tone that indicated a degree of pleasant surprise. Think about it; it's worthy of a mention that no-one died in this one off, 10 minute sporting event. That's like a football commentator saying, "and eight or fewer of the players died during the match . . . how good was that?"
I'm not complaining. I just thought it was worthy of comment.
When I’m away, I rarely get the opportunity to enjoy any telly. Partly because it’s quite tricky to get hold of UK TV channels when abroad, but even when I’m in the UK, I don’t have the time. I know I shouldn’t, but I do tend to over indulge when I get back. It’s like coming in from the cold and wrapping yourself in the warming comfort of an old, familiar duvet. There’s been a bit of talk on other blogs about what’s on the telly, so I thought it might be a nice idea to make a list of the Top 10 TV programmes I’m enjoying this particular time I’ve fallen off the TV waggon. So here we go. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.
NB I’ve done them in a sort of reverse order to allow them to build to a crescendo.
This is the BBC’s flagship technology programme. However, UK technology geeks would be forgiven for not even knowing it exists, tucked away as it is on BBC News 24’s daytime schedules. Perhaps they think it doesn’t matter when it goes out, because tech-heads will be watching it on catch-up anyway. Anyway, I like it because its apparent low budget means that it cuts to the chase, rather than cluttering up its on-screen time with competitions, prizes and reading out live tweets from people whose attention is divided between the show, and their iPhone (and hence whose opinions are worthless).
9. Big Bang Theory
This is the first of two US imports I’ve chosen, that air as part of E4’s ‘Quite Big Thursday’ (the other being ‘Brooklyn 99’; see next item). Believe it or not, there are people in this world who have never seen an episode of Big Bang Theory. My heart goes out to them. They truly do not know what they’re missing. As an aside, an Admin Assistant in one of the places I sometimes work looks like Penny, and so it’s a happy day for me when I go there.
8. Brooklyn 99
This one snuck up without fanfare. As mentioned above, this comes as part of E4’s ‘Quite Big Thursday’. The trouble with E4’s ‘Quite Big Thursday’ is that it’s littered with fairly lacklustre and formulaic US comedies that are only ‘quite’ funny. Something about this one, however, caught my eye, and after the first episode I was sold.
7. Bear Grylls: Mission Survive
This is a little like “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here”, in that a load of celebs are taken into the jungle and made to do many things they’d sooner not do. There the comparison ends, however. IACGMOOH is hosted by those cheeky Tyneside Eric-and-Ernie-alikes Ant & Dec. Mission Survive is hosted by an unsympathetic ex-SAS survival expert who famously rehydrated himself by
In IACGMOOH, you never get the impression anyone will actually die as a result of eating bugs or getting covered in rats. With Mission Survive, it’s always a puzzle how any of the celebs manage to still be alive at the end of the episode. The viewers vote off celebs in IACGMOOH, whereas in Mission Survive, Bear Grylls dispatches them humanely with a small hunting knife before their incompetence can kill anyone else (that’s not strictly true, but by the time you’ve watched the first couple of episodes, it wouldn’t surprise you).
6. Bear Grylls: The Island
Once Bear Grylls has euthanised the last of the celebrities in Mission Survive, Channel 4 will segue him seamlessly into this particular offering. The premise is this: Bear Grylls leaves a group of a dozen or so overweight office workers on a small, swampy and dangerous, deserted island with no food, water, survival kit or training. He then goes back after eight weeks to see what became of them. You think I’m joking? I am not. Lord Of The Flies can’t hold a candle to the horrors of the last series. In series 2, the ante has been upped. There will be two islands and two groups; one of men, and one of women. Oh, the humanity!
5. Raised By Wolves
Every now and again, Channel 4 delivers up a new comedy that is like nothing that has ever come before it. ‘Father Ted’ and ‘The IT Crowd’ are obvious examples, and you may remember ‘The Comic Strip Presents’. The most recent to fit into that category is ‘Raised By Wolves’. Written by Caitlin and Caroline Moran, whose writing career doesn’t seem to have edged into TV before, this is the story of a very unusual West Midlands working class one-parent-family, and their sundry misadventures. Wow!
4. Inside Number 9
Back for a second series, this darkly comic (emphasis very much on the dark, rather than the comic) anthology of one-off dramas is written by Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, two of the powerhouse writing team that brought us the deeply disturbing ‘League of Gentlemen’. The only connection between these half-hour stories is that they all take place in Number 9, be it an ordinary house, a gothic mansion, a dressing room, or a rail couchette . . . oh, and there’s always a knock-you-sideways twist in the tale.
3. Only Connect
It only became apparent to me after watching ‘Only Connect’, but there live amongst us a race of super-intelligent alien entities, disguised as ordinary human beings. They created this quiz show to test their immeasurably superior intellects; to compete amongst themselves by performing mental feats so amazing to ordinary mortals as to make them nearly dizzy at the cerebral capacities involved. For humble men and women such as you or I, it is a feather in the cap to even understand the answers given, let alone come anywhere near providing one. It bills itself as ‘the toughest quiz show on TV’, and I see no reason to doubt that claim. It is hosted by Victoria Coren-Mitchell, who must surely be the sexiest woman on whatever planet she comes from.
2. 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown
Born of a one-off experiment by Channel 4, ‘8 Out Of 10 cats Does Countdown’ has shoehorned two very different shows together into one. ‘8 Out of 10 Cats’ was a long running panel show where comedians answer questions on statistics. Very funny, but just one of many similar panel shows. Countdown was a number and letter puzzles gameshow, shown midweek afternoons, and mainly watched by students, and retired people hoping that exercising their brain cells will stave off dementia. The format is simple, and it’s the longest running gameshow on the planet (interesting fact:
Countdown was the first show on Channel 4). Anyway, surprisingly enough, you put these 2 ordinary shows together, and you get ab-sol-ute dynamite. The whole is so much bigger than the sum of its parts. Funniest thing on telly at the moment by a long chalk.
1. Life on Mars
I saved the best until last. OK, so this isn’t showing at the moment. I found the complete series 1 & 2 going cheap on iTunes, so I loaded it onto the iPhone to take away to Austria with me. I didn’t really get chance to watch it, so I’m catching up on it now. If I had to make a list of my top five TV shows of all time, this would probably be at the top. Gene Hunt is such an inspired creation, that Life on Mars would be at the top of the list on that character’s merit alone, but the rest is all superb too.
Other highlights of my square-eyed habit are ‘Family Guy’ and ‘Banished’. My wife says I should watch the new ‘Poldark’, but I’ve already nailed my colours to ‘Banished’s flagpole, and there’s only room in my life for one Redcoat-based period drama. And anyway, I think she only watches it to see Aidan Turner’s six-pack.
I’ve just been through a course of treatment for premature ejaculation. I’m OK now, but for a while it was touch & go.
Just getting in the mood, because I’m starting to fit jobs around our annual visit to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. For as long as I can remember I’d heard tales of this legendary festival, and longed to go, but never did. I wasn’t really sure why, but if I’m honest I was probably a little over-awed by it. It is after all, the largest festival on the planet by a very, very considerable margin. It . . . is . . . HUGE. Absolutely city-wide, and during practically the whole month of August. Hundreds of venues host multiple shows each day, all day. There’s barely a pub in the city that doesn’t also have something going on, and if that weren’t enough, the streets are packed with street entertainers surrounded by crowds. The whole city is one long party for four weeks, starting before lunch each day, and pushing on well into the wee-small hours. The atmosphere is truly electric.
Notoriously, however, even if you can find somewhere to stay, the price of accommodation in the city is hiked up during the Fringe Festival . . . and with so much going on, just where do you start? You can go and see people you’ve heard of, but that’s all very safe and predictable, and not really in the spirit of the Fringe (and it tends to be a bit pricey). The Fringe is all about those kind of shows you’d never see anywhere else. . . that just wouldn’t work outside the context of this avalanche of music/theatre/comedy/dance/arts. You need to see the nobodies, the ones yet to be jaded by wide-audience appeal. You want to be able to hear that Johnny Come-Lately’s sold out tour of mega-arenas is once again packing out the O2, and say with pride “I saw him in a 50-seat venue above a pub at the Edinburgh Fringe, and it only cost me a fiver”. In short, it’s all about taking the risk and seeing something different.
Now you can see why I was a little intimidated by the prospect. But eventually, I bit the bullet and went for it. I was so glad I did, and have been every year since. So here’s my guide to enjoying the Edinburgh Fringe, without breaking the bank.
Sunshine on Leith
Do you remember bespectacled, sore-footed and overly-Scottish musical twins, The Proclaimers? They did a song called, and appeared in an excellently feel-good film called, ‘Sunshine on Leith’. Leith is the answer to your budget accommodation problems. There is an abundance of hotels, B&Bs, bunkhouses, etc. to cover all pockets. It’s easy to get to, just north of the City of Edinburgh, and served by myriad cheap and regular bus services. The place I use has a bus stop right outside, where every 10 minutes, a bus takes you into the city centre in just 20 minutes.
There’s your accommodation sorted. Next question: How long should I stay? It’s a fair question. One thing is for absolutely certain, unless you have a bottomless bank account, and a time machine or an army of clones, you will undoubtedly leave without having seen the vast majority of what you wanted to see. So just plan to stay as long as you want your trip to last. I usually arrive early afternoon on a Friday and leave mid-afternoon on the following Monday. This year, I may go up on the Thursday.
Next question: How much planning should I do? The first year, I planned everything right down to the last minute. Every show booked, and tickets purchased in advance. This gave us a number of problems:
I had no idea just how big the festival was, and so how long it took to get between venues. We ended up running between shows on at least couple of occasions.
I didn’t really factor in time for some evening meals (eating is Future OfClayton’s problem, obviously!)
We didn’t have the opportunity to explore The Free Fringe – a sort of shadow Festival that operates on a ‘just turn up and pay what you think it was worth’ basis. This tends to be much cheaper than the main Fringe.
You tend to become aware of good shows while you’re there. Bill-postings, talking to people in pubs, leaflets, that kind of thing.
You don’t get the opportunity to use the half-price ticket booths. A good number of shows will release half price tickets on the morning of the show (if they have any left)
There was little chance to stop and watch the many, many excellent street entertainers.
We got to see a lot of shows, which meant we spent more money.
Last year, I really did just turn up and did no planning whatsoever. This meant many of the shows we decided to see were sold out. So the key is to plan a few, but leave plenty of time to just spontaneously drop onto shows, especially the Free Fringe and the street entertainers, or shows where you see a poster and think – “ooh, that looks good”. On the subject of leaflets, when someone hands you a leaflet, take it and read it. It’s an excellent way of happening on a show that you didn’t know about. Quite often the person handing out the leaflets will be one of the artistes themselves, so they’re well worth getting into a conversation with.
Meals? Obviously, you’re gonna need to eat out to a degree, and if you drop into a restaurant every night, then your cash will dwindle quickly. Here are my tips: We tend to choose accommodation where no breakfast is provided. That way, we can provide my own breakfast, and so save a bit there. We take a picnic lunch into the city, and eat it in one of Edinburgh’s many excellent public parks. I’ll recommend a couple of very good value eateries:
The Mosque Kitchen (Corner of Nicholson Street and Nicholson Place)
This is a remarkable place. It is exactly what it says it is – or started out that way; purely to serve a cheap meal of chicken and rice to those going to Friday Prayers. After 9/11, it threw open its doors to anyone and everyone. Now, you queue up, get a dirt cheap curry in a box, and sit at large tables with everyone else to eat it. It is located very close to many of the Fringe’s big venues, including The Gilded Balloon, Assembly George Square, The Pleasance Dome and the Udderbelly.
Ali Bongo’s Cafe & Bistro (Teviot Place, opposite Bristo Square)
Also conveniently located near the Udderbelly, Pleasance Dome and Gilded Balloon, this serves good Eastern Mediterranean cuisine at reasonable prices. It is far better than it looks from the outside, which has the added advantage of meaning you can usually get a table (often a problem during the Fringe)
Drinks? Sorry, but beer is expensive in Edinburgh, especially at the big Fringe venues. However, the atmosphere in those big outdoor bars tends to be very enjoyable, especially on a warm, cloudless night. The Pleasance Courtyard, the Udderbelly, or the Gilded Balloon are the best. Either drink less, or account for the cost.
How do I find my way around? This is a fair question, as the Fringe covers a large area of the city. If you have a Smartphone, they release an app for that year’s Fringe a few months in advance. This is by far the best way.
I suppose my last piece of advice is, don’t fail to go just because you don’t really know what you’ll do when you get there. Once you’re in Edinburgh during the Festival Fringe, it will draw you lovingly in, surround you, and look after you. You WILL have a great time.